Worth the Weights: Strength Training Tips

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Photos by Luke and Ashley Photography

Research has consistently shown the importance of resistance training in overall fitness. Adding weight to your workout can do wonders for bone health, muscle strength, metabolism and much more.

When fitness coach Gary Deagle opened Coastal Strength & Fitness in Newport News, he wanted to create a place where people could get stronger and healthier without the intimidation factor that can come with the “meathead” mentality sometimes pervasive in weight rooms.

“We like to say we took that part of the gym and put it in an environment that is friendly and supportive,” Deagle explains. “So that people can feel comfortable and learn how to do it correctly and get the benefits of resistance and strength training.”

At a recent training session, Deagle offered some specific tips on form for basic weightlifting exercises—from keeping your upper arms at a 45-degree angle from the shoulder for dumbbell presses to maintaining a tight core and holding for an extra second at the bottom of goblet squats—as well as some general advice for sticking to any fitness routine, including avoiding the common “all or nothing” mindset.

“People tend to take the light switch approach, the on/off,” Deagle notes, “when the reality is that you should take the dial approach. Maybe life gets busy, but you could still go to the gym twice a week instead of four or five, and that is still beneficial.”

Coastalstrengthand Fitness GaryA good place to start when establishing a workout routine, he says, is to “find that deeper why.” Sure, fitting into a bathing suit is a good goal, but if you go deeper, maybe your motivation is that you want to feel confident and at your best and you want to exude that confident energy to set a good example and emulate healthy habits for your family.

Having that kind of motivation helps you commit to a routine that should become like brushing your teeth. You may not always feel like doing it, but you make it a habit for a healthier life. Here are a few more of Deagle’s general tips on getting the most of resistance training.

Keep the Equipment to a Minimum

Fancy weight equipment—from elaborate resistance machines to all manner of free weight systems—can be great if utilized effectively, but you don’t necessarily need all of that to get a good workout. Especially when starting out, Deagle recommends using simple dumbbells and kettlebells for basic exercises like chest presses and squats. They require little or no set-up, encourage proper posture and can be used just about anywhere.

Put the Tension on the Muscle

The body is a complex machine that works together, and that includes your musculoskeletal system. As you move through resistance training exercises, there can be a tendency to compensate for weakness or fatigue by relying on parts of your body other than those being targeted by a particular exercise. It’s important to laser focus your mental and physical energy on the specific muscle or muscle groups you are working in order to get the most of those reps.

Make the Last Rep Like Your First

“Go up to form failure, but not past it,” says Deagle, “Your first rep should look like your last rep.” That means that once you have established the correct form for any particular exercise, you’ll need to continually remind yourself—or listen to your trainer when they tell you for the tenth time to keep your shoulders back or your hips in line—to remain true to that form. That becomes more challenging as you go along, but sticking to it will yield better results.

Slow and Steady Is Where It’s At

So, you’ve made a commitment to hitting the weights, and you’re a week into a regular workout schedule. That’s great. But don’t overdo it, Deagle cautions. Focus on a slow and steady “double progression” process, or a gradual increase in repetitions followed by a gradual increase in weight. It’s not worth sacrificing proper form for the sake of piling on weight too soon—or worse, injuring yourself in the process. Patient persistence will get you there.

Not So Fast, Fancy Footwear

Athletic shoes designed primarily for running are perhaps the most readily available and popular for a variety of athleisure activities. But the elevated heel present in most running shoe styles is not ideal for lifting weights, explains Deagle, and tends to shift the body forward unnaturally, particularly when doing exercises like squats. While most gyms won’t let you go barefoot, you can opt for flatter training style shoes that will help ground and center your body more effectively.

Learn more about Coastal Strength & Fitness at CoastalFitnessVA.com.

Leona Baker
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